Friday, February 28, 2014

Friday Video: Visiting Jane Austen's Home

Friday, February 28, 2014

Isabella reporting,

Featuring historian Amanda Vickery, this thoughtful (and beautiful) tour of Chawton Cottage, Jane Austen's home, is an excerpt from Professor Vickery's mini-series, At Home with the Georgians. Based on her wonderful book Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England, it's an equally wonderful series, incorporating visits to 18th c. houses large and small, readings from letters and diaries, and costumed actors and actresses. I don't believe the series has ever been shown on American TV (perhaps not unless the networks develop CSI: Bath first), but it is available in its entirety on DVD from Amazon. If you enjoyed Professor Vickery's behind-the-scenes recreation of the Netherfield Ball, you'll love this series, too. Highly recommended for all you Georgian & Regency fans out there!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

View from the Coachman's Seat

Thursday, February 27, 2014
View at source here
Loretta reports:

Stanley Harris is one of several late 19th century authors of books about the golden age of coaching, which he says reached a state of perfection from 1820-40.  Thomas De Quincey was a fan of riding outside the coach. Others were not. Here’s the view from the coachman’s seat, pro and con.
…The box-seat in those days was a seat of honour: in a good, stout double-breasted coat, and with a good whip to handle the ribbons by your side, with rattling-bars, and with fair weather and a fine country, what could be more delightful!  Instead of tunnels and cuttings we had hills and dales; one saw the country and its inhabitants. The driver of a coach had his privileges in those days, as the following story, told by Lord William Lennox, will show:

'When we stopped to change horses at Slough, I saw the faithless Lothario [the coachman's wife had given him a bunch of violets at starting] present the pretty barmaid of the Red Lion with the bunch of violets, which she placed near her heart. Nay, more, if my optics did not deceive me, he implanted a kiss on the rosy lips of the blooming landlady, who faintly exclaimed, "For shame, you naughty man!"'

All this shows the bright side of coach-travelling; but there is another picture, and one equally true. 

View at source here
The outside of a coach in mid-winter, with darkness and cold mist such as eats into the very marrow, or with biting wind or pitiless continuous rain, is not pleasant, and is well exchanged for the inside of a railway carriage. What avails scenery when you can only discern the horses' heads through mist by aid of the coach-lamps? Though, when the air was steady, the night bright, and the roads firm, life on the box was not undesirable. The little villages, with lights shining through the diamond panes of the cottages, the odd weird shape of the trees, the interchange of conversation at any stoppage, were pleasant things enough.
—Stanley Harris, The Coaching Age

Upper left: Charles Cooper Henderson, Mail Coaches on the Road: the Louth-London Royal Mail progressing at Speed (between 1820 and 1830) Oil on canvas, courtesy Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.  Lower right:

James Pollard, The mail coach in a thunderstorm on Newmarket Heath, Suffolk, 1827, courtesy Wikipedia.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Mending Broken Bones, c. 1769

Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Isabella reporting,

Reading about 18th medicine is not for the squeamish. In a time before antibiotics, anesthesia, transfusions, and antiseptic practices, even the most straightforward malady (by modern terms) could go fatally wrong. In my new book, A Wicked Pursuit, I have played the Cruel Author, and sent my poor hero flying off his horse and breaking his leg. (He deserved it, of course, but my reasons are in the book, not in this blog.)

Today a broken leg means a trip to the ER, x-rays, a plastic cast, and plenty of physical therapy and visits to the orthopedist. But in the 18th c., there were no x-rays, and while the wealthy were attended by a surgeon, for most people the specialist of the day was the neighborhood bone-setter who relied on common sense and experience instead of medical training. Regardless of their education (or fee), both surgeon and bone-setter alike would first need to determine if the bone were truly broken. The following description of that process comes from Dr. William Buchan's immensely popular Domestic Medicine, first published in 1769.

"The most unequivocal symptoms of fractures are, the crepitus, or grating noise distinguished on moving the limb, occasioned by the fractured ends; the separation and inequalities of the ends of the fracture, when the bone is superficial; the change in the form of the limb, and the shortening of it."

In other words, if it didn't look broken, move things around a bit and listen for the sound of the broken pieces rubbing together. Arghhh!

For most cases, the bones were pushed back into place and set, and held immobile until the fracture healed together. Then, as now, time and rest were the most important part of the healing process.  Instead of a cast, a rigid splint of wood, leather, or pasteboard was tied in place by linen bandages. Opium-based laudanum could be administered for extreme pain, but most follow-up treatment consisted of a light diet, clysters (enemas), and bleeding. For a broken leg like my hero's, the patient was confined to bed, with the splinted leg slightly raised and supported in a fracture box, like the replica, above left.

But while today an x-rays can quickly tell if there are any errant bone chips or fragments that might require surgery to remove, the 18th c. attendant was forced to rely on his own outward observations. It made for a difficult bit of guesswork, as Dr. Buchan cautions, and the wrong guess could kill the patient:

"Bone-setters ought carefully to examine whether the bone be not shattered or broken into several pieces. In this case it will sometimes be necessary to have the limb immediately taken off, otherwise a gangrene or mortification may ensue. The horror which attends the very idea of an amputation often occasions its being delayed in such cases till too late. I have known this principle operate so strongly, that a limb, where the bones were shattered into more than twenty pieces, was not amputated before the third day after the accident, when the gangrene had proceeded so far as to render the operation useless."

Aren't you grateful you live now?

Many thanks to Robin Kipps and Sharon Cotner of the Apothecary Shop, Colonial Williamsburg, for sharing their knowledge.
Above: Modern Replica of 18th c. Fracture Box, Colonial Williamsburg. Photography by Susan Holloway Scott.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

"A Wicked Pursuit" On Sale Today

Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Isabella reporting,

Writing a book seems to take forever, months and months, and then, all of a sudden, it's HERE.

Today my latest historical romance, A WICKED PURSUIT, goes on sale everywhere. Thanks to  the internet, it truly is everywhere at midnight, in paperback, ebook, and audiobook formats.

Set in Georgian England, this is the first in a new series for me featuring the three sons of the Duke of Breconridge. A WICKED PURSUIT introduces the oldest of the three brothers, Harry Fitzroy, whose carefree life comes to a crashing end when he suffers a disastrous fall from his horse – and finds love with Lady Augusta Weatherby, a most unexpected lady. I have to admit that while Harry is a charmer, Gus is one of my favorite heroines. She's loyal, generous, and stunningly efficient, kind to dogs and wandering musicians alike. And she knits.

I'll be sharing some of my background research for the book here on the blog over the next few weeks, too. My Nerdy History Girl side knows there's still more fascinating historical *stuff* that the Novelist side of me didn't include, and figures you'd probably be interested in that, too.

Read the first chapter of A WICKED PURSUIT here.

Order A WICKED PURSUIT from Amazon here, from Barnes & Noble here, from Books-a-Million here, Powell's Books here, and from The Book Depository here.

If you're in the UK, you can order A WICKED PURSUIT directly from the publisher here.

The audiobook edition is available here.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Men Behaving Badly: Town vs. Gown at Oxford 1825

Monday, February 24, 2014
View at source here
Loretta reports:

It’s been a while since we’ve had Men Behaving Badly.  Time to show (again) the other side of the Regency/Romantic era gentleman.  They were not all Mr. Darcy, as Pierce Egan, Charles Molloy Westmacott (aka Bernard Blackmantle), and others were happy to demonstrate. 

As wordy as the prose style is, I strongly recommend reading the episode in full (please search for 247, which will bring you near the beginning), to grasp how wild and lawless the world could be, even (or especially) at Oxford.  It’s also quite a study in upper class disregard for all lesser beings.
Gown! gown! Town! town! were the only sounds heard in every direction; and the clamour and the tumult of voices were enough to shake the city with dismay.  …

Of the strong band of university men who rushed on eager for the coming fray, a number of them were fresh light-hearted Etonians and old Westminsters, who having just arrived to place themselves under the sacred banners of Academus, thought their honour and their courage both concerned in defending the togati: most of these youthful zealots had as usual, at the beginning of a term, been lodged in the different inns and houses of the city, and from having drank somewhat freely of the welcome cup with old schoolfellows and new friends, were just ripe for mischief, unheedful of the consequences or the cause.

On the other hand, the original fomenters of the strife had recruited their forces with herds of the lowest rabble gathered from the purlieus of their patron saints, St. Clement and St. Thomas, and the shores of the Charwell,—the bargees, and butchers, and labourers, and scum of the suburbians: a huge conglomerated mass of thick sculls, and broad backs, and strengthy arms, and sturdy legs, and throats bawling for revenge, and hearts bursting with wrathful ire, rendered still more frantic and desperate by the magic influence of their accustomed war-whoop….

In a moment all was fury and confusion …

The English Spy by Bernard Blackmantle. Illustrations by Robert Cruikshank (1825)

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Breakfast Links: Week of February 17, 2014

Saturday, February 22, 2014
Our Breakfast Links are served up fresh for you – this week's fav links to other blogs, web sites, images, and articles, all gathered from around the Twitterverse.
Women as jockeys in horse races on public race courses, 1804.
• The beautiful, eccentric world of Snowshill Manor.
• A stunningly beautiful handbag from 14th c. Mosul.
• A personality quiz: how would you have died in Victorian England?
• Lost portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie found in Scotland.
Changing standards in gender and class: Blanche DuBois is as old as Jess from The New Girl.
• All for love: an example of 18th c. marriage defiance.
• One of the "Traitor Peers", 1919: the last Viscount Taaffe.
• The best way to beat the winter chill: hot chocolate with orange blossoms à la Marie Antoinette.
• "Oh how I would squeeze my juice in thee...": fabulously frisky & filthy 18th c. song.
• London's infamous oyster-eater, a tale worthy of Dickens.
• Image: A herald's tunic, dated after 1578, possibly worn by Filips Borluut at Ghent in 1600.
• Eighteenth & nineteenth century fight club: the beginnings of British boxing.
• "You must be satisfied with just one glance": an unusual 15th c. love token.
• Old maids & old bachelors: an assembly of undateables, 1743.
• A Tudor portrait that defies belief: the boy behind the window.
• Unusual premodern bookmarks, including a 500-year-old dried leaf.
• Image: Workmen basking in the sun during a break in the construction of a new building at Baker Street Station, 1929.
• London transportation infographics, 1912-1969.
• Wine, Mohawks, & snow: in honor of "Drink More Wine Day" this week, several London streets with unusual names.
• Great research on the composition of grog found in ancient Scandinavian graves: delicious bog myrtle & birch tree resin.
• Little-known fact: fifty-eight Chinese Americans fought in America's Civil War.
• Image: Hey kids: this is how mom and dad used to Google stuff.
Alchemy laboratories, newly spruced up - or they were in the 16th c.
• From the Illustrated London News: the Queen of Oude makes a state visit to Drury Lane Theatre, March, 1857, here and here.
Fanny Murray, "Fair and Reigning Toast" of Georgian England.
• Image: Portfolio found in Emperor Napoleon's traveling carriage, taken at the Battle of Leipzig, 18 October 1813.
• History truth or myth? Fire screens kept 18th c.women's wax-based makeup from melting on their faces.
• Dame Julian of Norwich, 15th c. English mystic, theologian, anchoress, and writer.
• Image: Fancy Fair, Hanover Square Rooms, 1833.
• "No woman desires a man with rabies": how to impress girls at a dance, 1530.
• Image: Female train guard in sensational boots, 1916.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter at @2NerdyHistGirls for fresh updates daily.
Huzzah! Thanks to all of you, we've just welcomed our 6,000th follower on Twitter this week! 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Casual Friday: The New Dial Telephone!

Friday, February 21, 2014
Loretta reports:

Once upon a time, in order to make a phone call, you needed to talk to an operator.  I was amazed to learn that in some parts of the U.S. there was no dial service until the 1970s.

This instructional film played in theaters, with no sound except for the usual silent film music, since it's 1927.  It's hard to imagine what a technical undertaking it must have been, converting the phones in large cities—and what an adjustment for callers.

Readers who receive our blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be.  To watch the video, please click on the title to this post.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Return Engagement: Hortense Mancini & Anne Lennard, Ladies with Swords, 1675

Thursday, February 20, 2014
Isabella reporting,

Loretta's post about dueling ladies of 1811 reminded me of another pair from 1675. In this case, the identities of the two ladies made for just as much gossip as their activity.

Hortense Mancini, duchesse Mazarin (1646-1699) was a high-born adventuress in every sense of the word. The favorite niece of Cardinal Mazarin, Hortense was married off at fifteen in 1661 to the richest gentleman in Europe. Unfortunately, he was one of the most mentally unbalanced as well, and in 1668 Hortense fled the marriage.

Roaming across Europe, she cut a flamboyant figure wherever she went: tall and beautiful in either men's clothing or women's, she rode and drank hard, gambled, shot pistols, swam in rivers, took lovers of both genders, played the guitar and danced like a gypsy. When she finally landed in London in 1675, King Charles II was duly impressed, and soon Hortense was sharing his bed.

But the Roman duchesse also captivated another: Anne Lennard, Countess of Sussex (1661-1721). The fifteen-year-old countess was the first child (of many) of Charles and Barbara Palmer, Duchess of Cleveland. Legitimized and ennobled, the countess had been unhappily married for two years when Hortense arrived, and the pair soon became not only great friends, but almost certainly lovers.

Thus our combatants: one lady who is mistress to the king, but also involved in a lesbian affair with the other lady, half her age, who is a daughter of that same king. As can be imagined, this was scandalous even in Restoration England, and the gossip was fierce. Here is a report in a letter by the clearly titillated Lady Chaworth to her brother Lord Roos in December, 1676:

"Lady Sussex and Madame Mazarin have privately learnt to fence, and went downe into St. James Parke the other day with drawne swords under theire night gownes, which they drew out and made severall fine passes with, to the admiration of severall men that was lookers on in the Parke."

Predictably, Lord Sussex was not amused:

"They say [Lady Sussex's] husband and she will part unless she leave the Court and be content to live to him in the country, he disliking her much converse with Madame Mazarin and the addresses she gets amongst that company."*

Lord Sussex kept his word, and hauled his wife off to the country with him, where it was reported Anne took to her bed and wept bitterly, kissing a miniature portrait of Hortense. Back in London, Hortense merely shrugged, and moved on to her next extracurricular lover (in addition to Charles): Louis I de Grimaldi, Prince de Monaco.

But Anne wasn't done enhancing her notoriety, either. Taken next to a nunnery in Paris in 1678, she soon found ways to slip free, and at seventeen, began a heated affair with the forty-year-old English ambassador, Ralph Montagu (1638-1709) - who had once been one of her mother's lovers as well.

Above: Portrait of Hortense Mancini by Jacob Voet, 1671, The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Dandy's Perambulations

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Read at Internet Archive
Loretta reports:

2NHG readers familiar with my books will have long ago discerned my infatuation with elegantly dressed men.  With rare exceptions—when I go to the other extreme—my heroes contrive to appear point-device, no matter what the circumstances.

This was why I responded to a frantic text from Isabella, who was at the Artist/ Rebel/ Dandy: Men of Fashion exhibition at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum last summer (see her post here), and made a mad dash to catch the show on the last day. 

My reward was a sublime experience, one of whose high points was a chance to see some of the Cruikshank dandies caricatures at full size, rather than on a computer screen or in a book.  The artistry and humor truly comes across, and I was so impressed that I used a caricature in a scene in my latest book.

Read at Internet Archive
So imagine my delight when I came across this little gem, Robert Cruikshank's The Dandy’s Perambulations (1819) at the Internet Archive.

It was hard to choose images to post, but I picked these because the dandies are riding the latest high tech vehicles, sometimes called perambulators, but more often velocipedes.  While bicycles are a great mode of transportation—exercise & energy efficiency—one doesn’t think of them as chic, necessarily.  But at the time of this little book, it’s quite a (dangerous) fad.  You can learn more about the vehicle here at Jane Austen's World.

Clicking on the captions will allow you to read at the source, where you can where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Skating in Hyde Park, c 1780: Ideal vs. Reality

Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Isabella reporting,

With the athletic grace of Olympic figure skating currently on display at the Winter Games in Sochi, it seems fitting to look at two views of 18th c. skating in London. There were, of course, no elaborate indoor rinks or Zambonis. Skating was an outdoor activity that required a sufficient spell of cold weather to freeze the Serpentine River in Hyde Park. Anyone who has played "pond hockey" knows how unpredictable outdoor ice can be, especially when the Georgians were navigating it on the still-primitive skates that tied on over shoes.

Not that you'd know any of that from the portrait of the Scotsman William Grant (also known as The Skater), left, who strikes a confident, elegant pose worthy of any gold medalPainted by the American Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) to mark the end of his apprenticeship to fellow-expatriate Benjamin West, this portrait was considered strikingly innovative, even daring.

Why? At the time, English gentleman preferred to have their portraits painted in grand, grave, noble poses, and not engaged in an active sport like skating. However, as Stuart later recalled, inspiration came from an actual event. When Grant arrived for his sitting, he noted that "on account of the excessive coldness of the weather...the day was better suited for skating than sitting for one's portrait." Stuart agreed, and the two men went off for an afternoon of skating on the Serpentine. Afterwards, Stuart suggested that he paint Grant on his skates on the frozen river, with Westminster Abbey in the background. Not only was Grant pleased with the portrait, but the crowds at the 1782 Royal Academy exhibition agreed, and with his reputation made, Stuart was soon able to set up a studio of his own.

In the distance behind Grant is a group of less skillful skaters on the ice. Likely these were more the rule and Grant the stylish exception, especially after seeing the drawing right.

As captured by Swiss artist Samuel Hieronymus Grimm (1734-1794), these skaters are colliding and crashing to the ice. Dogs are barking, wine bottles are flying (a little restorative against the cold?), and a pair of ladies appear to be strolling across the ice without skates at all. I particularly like the gentleman on the bench to the right, his hands in a muff, sternly watching while another man (a servant?) bends over with the gentleman's leg braced between his legs to pull off his skate.

Left: The Skater (Portrait of William Grant), by Gilbert Stuart, 1782, National Gallery of Art.
Right: Skating in Hyde Park, by Samuel Hieronymus Grimm, c. 1780, The British Museum.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Preserving your teeth in 1830

Monday, February 17, 2014
View at Library of Congress
Loretta reports:

As Isabella has previously noted, preserving teeth was far from easy.  False teeth were common—among those who could afford them—as were interesting combinations of sensible and bizarre dental advice, like the following:

To ensure sound teeth to a good old age, it is absolutely proper to begin from early youth by cleaning them regularly every morning. The durability of teeth depends upon the thickness of the enamel, which should never be rubbed too long with powder of any sort, as the constant repetition of it very sensibly wears it, which will grow thin and be rendered unable of long withstanding the relentless corroding influence of time.

The teeth, which consume more by night than by day, should be rinsed well with water and a soft brush previous to going to bed. This disperses the vegetable and animal matter that after meals is apt to get into the interstices of the teeth, and there corrupts; which, though not felt then, gradually lays the foundation of decay.

View at Yale Center for British Art
However nauseous and unpleasant it may be to the palate, I am convinced there is nothing that preserves the teeth so well as tobacco. The reason why you will never see an old or inveterate smoker with bad teeth. On this account I recommend the ashes of tobacco, mixed with a little salt and fine charcoal, as the best preservative for the teeth: of the vegetable acids that are vended, and so much commended as toothpowders, though they, like every other acid, will produce a whiteness on the first application, it never remains, not even for an hour, while its influence is most pernicious, implanting the seeds of decay in a very short time. Finally, to conclude with respect generally to imperfections in the teeth and gums, timely recourse should always be had to a dentist, who, by judicious management, may afford a remedy which is so frequently essentially necessary for the preservation of these important organs.
The Whole Art of Dress! 1830
(the full excerpt is here at the Internet Archive)

Illustration top left courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.  Illustration lower right,
Rowlandson, Taunting with Smoke from a Pipe, courtesy Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.  Clicking on the captions will allow you to read at the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Breakfast Links: Week of February 10, 2014

Saturday, February 15, 2014
After a week buried in the snow, the Breakfast Links are back - a super-sized edition of our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, blogs, articles, and images, all gathered for you from around the Twitterverse.
• In 1789, eleven-year-old Mary Wade was sentenced to hang for theft; instead she was "mercifully" transported.
• Image: Meet Antoinette Perkins: harmless to cats, a walking death to everyone else.
• Lady Westmoreland's views on acceptable male conduct when peddling gossip, 1827.
• Scenes of everyday life and people in 1790.
Heart-shaped books from the 15th-16th centuries.
• 1920s-1930s dance cards from the University of Iowa.
• Image: Parasol flirtation, 1891.
• A bill of fare from a Valentine's Day dinner at the St. Nicholas Hotel in NY, 1882.
• Whip it! Early Valentine's Day custom in old New York involved public displays of flirtatious flagellation.
• Elizabeth Bull's 1730s wedding dress.
• I left my heart at Vauxhall Gardens: an 18th c. "missed connections" personal ad.
• Image: London's Bankside, c. 1630. Theatres from left to right are the Swan, the Rose, and the Globe.
• The 19th c. origins of snow removal for all New Yorkers, rich and poor.
• A rare surviving "Volito" - an in-line skate from 1823.
• A colonial milliner's apprentice worries about how to address a duchess.
• The Countess of Kent's Powder, a 17th c. "cure-all."
• Before Rockwell, a wildly successful gay artist defined the perfect American male.
• Unforgettable love letters: top twenty letters from the heart.
• A Persian romance for Valentine's Day in the "Book of Affairs of Love."
• Image: "Waukenphast" is a terrific name for a brand of shoes, 1881.
• "Plague me no more with tears and sighs!" Dealing with an unwanted Valentine, 18th c. style.
• An 18th c. monkey wearing a uniform, a chateau at Chantilly, and the birth of the modern circus.
• Happy Valentine's Day, I hate you: would you send one of these "vinegar Valentines"?
• The tippet and the muff, 1806.
• Early family photographs of Queen Victoria, an early supporter of photographic portraits.
• Printing on ice - a story to mark the 200th anniversary of the last Frost Fair on the Thames.
• News from 1908: tattooing is the new rage among Society folk.
• Famous people in history and their unusual pets.
• Indulgent Georgian comfort food: 18th c. recipe for Baked Marrow Pudding.
• The Isolator, a bizarre helmet for encouraging concentration, 1925.
• A five-second test to determine whether you're a good liar or not.
• "Murder by a midwife at Manchester", 1877.
• The long and colorful history of the f-word.
• The wheel cipher that Thomas Jefferson invented when he was Secretary of State.
• Was Revolutionary War General "Mad Antony" Wayne really mad?
Pudding Lane in London was once Red Rose Lane; you wouldn't want to eat the puddings it was named for.
• Image: The 15th c. King of France in full armor (though you can still see his blue eyes.)
• The color red, long associated with seduction, sexuality, and love.
• How a 1908 suffrage cartoon became an internet sensation.
• Image: A distressed purple creature from the Luttrell Psalter, England, c 1325-1340.
• The sitting dead: bizarre burials and curious coffins.
• Not a bit of spandex: early ski fashions.
• First English reference to Valentine's Day as a romantic time was part of marriage negotiations, 1477.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter at @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Friday Video: New Look Underwear, 1948

Friday, February 14, 2014


Isabella reporting,

Sitting safely in the relaxed twenty-first century, most of us tend to think of women wearing corsets as a fashion from at least a hundred years ago.

But in 1947, shortly after World War II, French designer Christian Dior launched his New Look, right, which was really an old look with new marketing. Instead of the slender, economical lines that had been in favor for the previous twenty years or so, Dior launched fashions that put an end to post-war austerity. His New Look dresses and suits features full, sweeping skirts, tiny waists, and sculptured shoulders.

Old-look bodies required some help to achieve the New Look style. As this short clip from an English newsreel shows, stylish women once again turned to heavy-duty, tight-laced corsets, plus a bit of judicious pinned-on padding, to achieve the hourglass silhouette.

Newsreel footage copyright British Pathe, 1947.

If you receive this post via email and are seeing only a black box or empty space, please go to the blog at to view the video.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Idea for a Fire Escape, 1843

Thursday, February 13, 2014
View at Internet Archive
Loretta reports:

This plan doesn't sound so simple to me, but I suspect the prose style has something to do with that.
A correspondent suggests the following simple plan for a fire escape :— 1st. Two ropes of 40 feet in length, each attached to a small chain also 40 feet in length, the end of each chain armed with a spring hook. 2nd. A stout sack of incombustible material (like the fire-proof dresses),open mouthed, with a metallic rim, about four feet deep, and wide enough to hold two persons, with two spring hooks on the opposite sides of the metallic rim, and connected therewith by a small chain of 9 inches long.

These articles should be brought to the spot on the first alarm of fire by a police constable. One rope and chain should be carried into the house next adjoining on the right of the one on fire, and while the rope is held fast, the chain should be dropt from the upper window till it touches the pavement; and the same should be done with the other rope and chain from the house on the left side; the two chains should then be hooked together by the policemen or neighbours. The escape sack should immediately be attached to the centre of the combined chains, and be rapidly drawn up to any window where a person may appear in danger. The moment the individual has got into the sack, one rope must be eased off, so as to allow the other rope to become perpendicular, when the rescued party may be taken in at a lower window of the neighbouring house, or lowered to the pavement; the rescuers giving the rope a half turn round a bed post, so that the lowering may be effected discreetly. It need scarcely be added, that this operation may be repeated several times in a minute, if there should be more individuals to be rescued. The sack, when manufactured, should be steeped in some solution prepared to resist combustion, and care should be taken that the ropes are not unnecessarily exposed to flame.

The Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal, Volume 6, 1843

Illustration:  "Fire in London," from the Microcosm of London Vol II, courtesy Internet Archive.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Reclining (and Slightly Silly) Hunter, 1783-84

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Isabella reporting,

Georgian gentlemen and ladies hunted with a passion. When one was not in Town, one was in the Country, and the primary activity there was hunting. There are numerous portraits of men (and women) astride their horses or posing with their dogs, guns, and huntsmen beside the day's prodigious kill, the feathered or furry bodies proudly presented as proof of genteel slaughter. (For a fine assortment of these, see this post by one of our favorite fellow-bloggers, Barbara Wells Sarudy.)

And then there's this fellow, above. Known now only as Reclining Hunter, he was painted in 1783-84 by the expatriate American painter Ralph Earl (1751-1801). While Earl had painted several traditional portraits of English hunting gentlemen in country settings, this isn't one of them. According to the museum's placard, this painting is an "enigmatic depiction of a reclining hunter suggest[ing] the emerging English view of the natural world as a place of repose and contemplation, where the beauties and pleasures of the countryside could be enjoyed."

I beg to differ. To me, it's more likely a parody of the hunting genre. To begin with, the gentlemen is wearing his most elegant London clothes instead of proper boots and buckskin breeches. His hair is neatly curled and powdered, and he has fine lace ruffles at his wrists. He's not standing ready and alert with his gun; he's lounging with it in the crook of his arm.

Like every hunting gentlemen, he is posed beside his kill, but his hapless victims are entirely inappropriate for a serious hunter. Include in the haphazard pile are a goose, an owl, and songbirds. In the background, his dubious marksmanship appears to have also claimed a cow and a donkey. Confirming all this foolishness is the hunter's supercilious (or merely silly) smile, showing he as no idea of just how wrong his situation is.

It also seems like exactly the sort of painting that Ralph Earl would paint. He seems to have had a certain contrary streak that helped keep him from achieving artistic success. Unlike more diplomatic American portraitists like John Singleton Copley, Earl was outspoken and politically unwise, a Tory who barely escaped to England after dabbling in espionage. In England, his self-taught skills improved, but he was no match for grand painters like Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough. He lied (when he returned to America, he advertised himself as having been part of the Royal Academy circle), drank heavily, and was often in debt. In frustration, he was forced to content himself painting portraits of lesser gentry. To me, the Reclining Huntsman might have been his reaction to having to paint one country squire too many – or perhaps it was painted for a now-forgotten patron who shared his views.

But that's only my humble opinion. Which do you see - a bucolic appreciation of the English countryside, or a satire of the English hunting gentleman (or perhaps something else entirely?)

Above: Reclining Hunter, by Ralph Earl, 1783-1784. Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Children's Winter Maladies 1811

Tuesday, February 11, 2014
View at Internet Archive
Loretta reports:

This being prime cold and flu season, I wondered what the average Regency-era physician might encounter in his practice.  The Medical Report for January-February gives an inkling of one reason so many children failed to survive into adulthood.  In the days before intravenous feeding, dehydration was often fatal.  At least some physicians were on the right track about this (and horribly wrong about other ailments), as well as understanding the difficulties of feeding a sick, miserable child. 

The medical commentary here made me wonder as well whether it was lack of antibiotics or lack of a way to combat swift dehydration that killed so many people during the 1830s cholera epidemics. 

Read at Internet Archive

Clicking on the captions will allow you to read at the source, where you can enlarge images as needed.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Return Engagement: The Cursed Silk Shoes of an Unhappy Ghost, 1715

Sunday, February 9, 2014
Isabella reporting:

While examples of 18th c. ladies' silk shoes like the pair, left, aren't rare (like thesethese, and these), shoes with a lurid ghost story attached certainly are. Know as the Papillon Shoes, this pair has a fascinating provenance that's more ghost story and legend than historical fact.

David Papillon (1681-1762) was a wealthy courtier and the master of Papillon Hall, Leicestershire, lower right. "Old Pamp"'s reputation for drunken debauchery was enhanced with whispers that he was friends with the Devil, and that he possessed demonic powers sufficient to paralyze his enemies with a single glance. Other rumors claimed he kept a beautiful Spanish mistress at the Hall. There she was a virtual prisoner, locked away in the attic, and only permitted to walk along the roof for exercise. She disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 1717; one story had her die in the attic, cursing the house and promising death and disaster to any owner who dared remove the shoes in which she'd walked the lonely roof.

Soon afterwards, Papillon left the Hall permanently to marry and live with his new wife in Kent. Some judged his haste suspicious, especially considering that he left strict instructions that certain items should never be taken from Papillon Hall. Among them were these shoes.

Over the years, the Hall changed hands many times. In the mid-19th c., however, the contents (including the shoes) were left to the old owner's daughter, and removed from the house. The new owners were at once plagued with unexplained loud thumps, crashes, and voices coming from the attic rooms, violent enough to terrify the family and servants. A local clergyman recalled Old Pamp's stipulation. The shoes were found and restored to the house, and peace restored with them. On several other occasions in the next century the shoes were removed from the house. Each time poltergeist activity began and continued until the shoes were returned.

The Hall was renovated in 1903, and a long-dead body was found hidden in the walls near the attic. While there was no way to know for sure if this was Old Pamp's mistress, the discovery fueled the legend, and more reports of paranormal activity with it. Even after the Hall fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1950, the mistress's curse seemed to shift to the remaining outbuildings, terrifying their inhabitants. The site was studied by paranormal investigators, who definitely came to believe in the curse.

After the Hall was knocked down, the shoes were left first to a Papillon descendant, and then to the local museum. Yet even that mundane transfer had its mysteries. The driver of the truck carrying the shoes became inexplicably lost. The short trip took him hours instead of minutes to complete, and when he finally did arrive, he was confused and disoriented, without any knowledge of where he'd been or what had happened. Ahh, the power of the shoes....

Above: Papillon Shoes (with single patten), silk with red leather heels, c. 1715-30. Collections Resources Centre, Heritage Services, Glenfield, Leicestershire
Below: View of Papillon Hall, built c. 1622, now demolished. Photograph courtesy of Lost Heritage.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Shameless Self-Promotion: Loretta's Book News

Saturday, February 8, 2014
Loretta reports:

Though we can’t bring you Breakfast Links this week, we can offer some good news on the writing front.

Under Loretta’s Latest, at right, you might have noticed a new cover.  At last.  Yes, the third Dressmakers book is done, in the sense I’ve finished writing it.  Vixen in Velvet has completed the first couple of stages of production, and we’ve gone public with the cover.  It will pass through a final check, preparatory to its 24 June release.  An excerpt will appear on my website before too long.

Meanwhile, Lord of Scoundrels, which readers have honored with favoritism for many years, is now available in audio, a very exciting development for me.  This is my first audiobook.  More are on the way.

Breakfast Links On Ice

Isabella reporting,

I hate to deliver the sorrowful news to all you Breakfast Links fans, but this week there will be no fresh links, due to the winter weather.

Obviously I jinxed myself with that blog about the Great Blizzard of 1888. I've had no power, no heat, and no internet since a winter ice storm on Tuesday night dumped a delightful mix of sleet and freezing rain on top of the Sunday night storm's nine inches of snow, left. The ice on top of the weighty wet snow took out power lines and trees (including my poor 70-year-old pink crabapple tree) across the Philadelphia area. With over 750,000 houses and businesses in the dark - mostly in my county - this has been the region's worst storm-related outage since Hurricane Sandy. Misery does love company, I suppose, but it's hard to be companionable when the temperature is below freezing inside your house.

But enough about ice. If the absence of a fresh edition of Breakfast Links seems too much to bear, please consider a visit to some of our older links - look to the "Labels" list to the left, click on Breakfast Links, and you'll have thousands of older links to explore.

Hope to be back next week!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Casual Friday: Pride & Prejudice by Thug Notes

Friday, February 7, 2014
View at source here
Loretta reports:

Thanks to Isabella for calling this to my attention. We've seen other short, amusing treatments of Jane Austen's work (here and here are just a couple of examples).  This is a wonderful, brief, funny, accurate summary & analysis, in a language that, like Jane Austen's, may be foreign to some of us, yet understandable for all that.  Of course, the illustrations help.

Readers who receive our blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be.  To watch the video, please click on the title to this post.

Illustration courtesy Wikipedia.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Return Engagement: Keeping Warm—Buzaglo stove

Thursday, February 6, 2014
Isabella reports:

When I posted the photographs of the ballroom and the supper room in the Governor's Palace, Colonial Williamsburg, two very important fixtures weren't visible in the pictures. Here they are now: a pair of coal-burning, cast-iron stoves that were the cutting edge of keeping warm in the 1770s.

Also called "warming machines," the stoves were imported from London where they were effective, fashionable, and exclusive because of their cost. The stoves were the work of a famous inventor of the time named Abraham Buzaglo (1716-1788.) A Moroccan who immigrated to England in 1760, Mr. Buzaglo immediately amazed Londoners with his cast iron warming machines, which he patented in 1765. As one historian has noted, his ultimate goal was to try to "reform English prejudices regarding comfortable warmth."*

Mr. Buzaglo's trade card modestly promised that his stoves "surpass in Utility, Beauty & Goodness any thing hitherto Invented in all Europe". They "cast an equal & agreeable Heat to any Part of the Room, and are not attended by any Stench," with "a bright Fire to be seen at Pleasure." More importantly, the stoves"preserve the Ladies Complexions and Eye Sight" and "warm equally the whole Body, without scorching the Face or Legs," plus "other Advantages too tedious to insert."**

The warming machines were so popular that they became known by the inventor's name (though incorrectly, if inevitably, pronounced by the English as "Buzz-aglow" rather than "Bu-ZAH-glo".) Buzaglos warmed drafty gracious homes as well as university libraries and the shops of tailors and weavers. The two in Williamsburg were imported to colonial Virginia by the Royal Governor, Lord Botetourt (1718-1770) for the comfort of his guests in the Governor's Palace, and shortly before his death in 1770 he ordered another to warm the House of Burgesses.

So do Buzaglo stoves work? While I don't doubt that the twin Buzaglos in the palace are in fine working order, I also imagine that modern-day fire and pollution regulations frown on combining coal-burning stoves with crowds of tourists. But to a lady shivering in a silk gown two hundred years ago, I'm sure they were a very welcome upgrade from the sparks, soot, and limited warmth of an open hearth.

And, of course, there must have been all those "other Advantages too tedious to insert."

** "Hot Air from Cambridge", an article by J.C.T. Oates appearing in The Library

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Return Engagement: Garters at Work

Wednesday, February 5, 2014
Loretta reports:

Susan & I have had several discussions about garters, and where it is best to tie them if you are living in the days before the latest thing, i.e., the garters illustrated in my previous blog.

Contemporary illustrations show us that garters could be tied just above the knee or just below it.  Top left, Boucher’s The Toilette (1742), shows a lady tying her garters above her knee.  You’ll note that this is just above the knee, not up on her thigh.

You can blow up this Fragonard painting  and focus on the lady’s garters.  Again, they're tied just above the knee.  Since garters didn’t contain elastic (although they might have springs), one tied them at a place on the leg where a natural bulge would help keep them from sliding down.

Another good place to tie our heroine’s garters is just below the knee, above the swell of the calf, as Rowlandson illustrates in his Exhibition Stare-Case (ca 1811) and his many erotic engravings.

In the Rowlandson print you’ll notice how smoothly the stockings cling.  But I suspected this was not the case so much in real life.  (Anyone who wore nylon or silk stockings and garters pre-Lycra knows the annoyance of ankle sag.)

Art and illustrations usually show us smooth stockings, as in John Hoppner’s full length portrait of Captain George Porter (second at left).

But not always.  The Guitarist, by Jean Baptiste Greuze (1757), shows us how, I suspect, the stockings usually appeared in real life.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Snow Removal from the Streets of New York, c. 1888

Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Isabella reporting,

I have spent the day shoveling out a driveway that seems to grow magically in length in direct proportion to the amount of snow covering it, which, of course, being a Nerdy History Girl, made me wonder how snow was cleared away from streets in the days before plows.

The Great Blizzard of 1888 deposited as much as 60 inches of snow over New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts over a four-day span in March. Single-digit temperatures and high winds contributed to the misery, with fifty-foot
drifts reported. Telegraph and telephone lines were knocked down, train lines were halted, ships were wrecked and grounded up and down the coast, and more than 400 people perished from the storm's cold. Many people were trapped in their homes for over a week. Modern weather reporters love to speak of how snow storms leave a city "paralyzed"; in 1888, New York really was stopped cold in its snowy tracks.

How did they clear all that snow away? In much the same way that I've been clearing my driveway. As these pictures show, snow was slowly and laboriously shoveled by hand into horse-drawn carts. The carts were then driven to the river, and one by one emptied into the rivers. It must have been back-breaking work, and in the wind and freezing temperatures, an exhausting challenge to both the men and the horses.

Top left: The Snow-Storm - Carting snow from the Streets of New York, by Stanley Fox, 1888.
Right & lower left: Photographs following Blizzard of 1888 by E.A.Austen. All images from New York Public Library.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Fashions for February 1811

Monday, February 3, 2014
View online here
Loretta reports:

Very often the winter fashions, especially in the early decades of the 19th century, make me shiver.  Muslin?  Really?  But here at least we have layers, with the outdoor costume using wool or velvet, and the opera dresses involving layers.

You will notice quite a difference in artistic style between this and last month's 1827 fashion plates.
View online here

Read online here

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Breakfast Links: Week of January 27, 2014

Saturday, February 1, 2014
We can't predict whether or not the groundhog sees his shadow this weekend, but we can guarantee the freshness of our Breakfast Links - our weekly round-up of favorite links to other blogs, web sites, articles, and images, gathered for you via Twitter.
• This beautiful shawl was a 17th birthday present in 1838.
• Book cover nightmares: a collection of bad Jane Eyre covers.
• The real Flashman? Incomparable Victorian adventurer Colonel Frederick Burnaby (1842-1885)
• A life in tattoos: William Jenkins, transported at age 19 in 1845.
• Everything you need to know about firing an arquebus in one simple GIF! (Professional soldier; do not attempt.)
• Image: Beautiful light at Hampton Court Palace.
Russian menu from the Cafe Paris in Archangel in 1917, seven weeks before the October Revolution.
• Mapping the silence of housekeeping in 1925.
• When Edgar Allan Poe needed to get away, he went to the Bronx - but he had connections to Boston, too.
• Image: "A Soho night club serious disturbance," Illustrated Police News, 1897.
• How twelve million letters a week reached soldiers in the trenches during WWI.
• This expressive face from the 8th c. survives from an ancient city that was washed away by Lake Nasser.
• The key of Hell: an 18th c. book of black magic.
• Image: A carte-de-visite of three men standing around a chicken (and why not?)
• An 18th c. recipe for a Marmalade of Oranges.
• British propaganda at its finest declared that Napoleon was short; the truth was that he and Nelson were precisely the same size at 5'7".
Pilgrim house, lovingly reassembled 350 years after construction, is for sale.
• The first Sherlock Holmes film was made in Union Square, NYC, and the second in Flatbush, Brooklyn.
• An Edwardian expedition to the pyramids, c. 1910.
• Who is Gladys E. Reed? Mystery of an extraordinary WWII Wren artist.
• Why did George Washington travel to Barbados?
• A visit to the abandoned 19th c. Bancroft Road Jewish Cemetery in London.
• The end of the Regency.
• A cat piano? Ten of the strangest musical instruments in history.
• Now online: over 15,000 images of Persian manuscripts at the British Library.
• Image: Socially v. eugenically "desirable" female traits, from Scheinfeld, You and Heredity, 1939.
• I've got my eye on you: 18th-19th c. eye miniatures.
• Jessie Tarbox Beals, the pioneering news photographer who lugged 50 lbs of camera gear while wearing a corset.
• A view that hasn't been seen in 500 years.
• The height of medieval fashion at the 15th c. Burgundian court.
• Let there be light! The lighting of the first gas street lamps in Pall Mall in 1807.
Frost Fair: when an elephant walked on the frozen River Thames.
• The many lurid broadsides chronicling John Holloway's murder of his wife in 1831.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
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